If I hadn't been holding conferences today, I probably would have called in sick. I certainly felt sick, as I listened to the election results coming in last night, and I found it very difficult to sleep.
But I was conferencing, so I came in. I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped before my first appointment, but I did crank away at the grading. And the first appointment was very gratifying.
At first, I thought the student was on the verge of tears about her essay--even though it was a good essay to start with, and I know she has the chops to make it much better. It took a while for her to seem to click into focus in looking again at the poems, re-evaluating some of her points, but then I saw the click happen, and her whole demeanor changed: she sat up straighter; she stopped chewing her lower lip; she made more eye contact. As she was getting ready to leave, she said, "I'm sorry if I seemed out of it earlier; it was just a rough night, and today is a rough day." I said I thought that was true for many of us--and she suddenly was blazing with energy: she is incandescent with rage over the outcome of the election, but she is also very frightened. She told me that last night she way lying in bed, shaking and crying, for a long while before she could sleep. She comes from a Hindu family, and many of her family members supported Trump--in part because of a cultural antipathy between Hindus and Muslims. But she was standing up to her family about it, trying to get them to understand what her concerns were, what their concerns should be.
It was good to know that a member of her generation was passionately involved in this election: it's the first one in my time at NCC when I've seen my students truly care--and understand why they care. The next student that came in had a different demeanor, but when I mentioned that I was struggling a bit with my own focus, he also lit up with outrage.
There is hope in the younger generation. There is hope.
And their essays truly were better. Once I explained to them the trap built into the poems about parents, they suddenly got the idea and started to sail--and just about everyone had done better in terms of organization and structure, even when working on a very shaky premise.
The young woman I was concerned about facing in conference didn't have the emotional reaction I feared--even though I was pretty clear with her that if she doesn't get her sentences to make sense, she won't pass. We talked about methods she might use: she can hear when a sentence doesn't make sense--not just when I read it aloud but also when she reads it aloud. And if she talks her ideas, she is quite clear. The problem is that disconnect between audio processing and the abstraction of the written word: even when she was trying to write down what she'd just said, it would get scrambled. I have begun to wonder if she has a learning disability of some kind--maybe one she knows about but doesn't want to get help for (a frequent concern in these students, as they feel stigmatized by the whole process of getting accommodations), or maybe one that has never been diagnosed. I don't know enough about such disorders to have any suggestions--except that she should find a way to speak out her ideas, either to a recorder or to a scribe, or read her ideas aloud after she writes, or find any way she can to use her good audio processing to inform her written work.
Sometimes when I'm in the depths of the trenches, slogging through the murk of their essays, I lose sight of what they do have to offer. They may have difficulty thinking critically, or writing clearly--but many of them have already begun to acquire the habits of mind that come with higher education: the ability to weigh and evaluate evidence; the ability to understand implications beyond the immediately obvious; the desire to understand and expand their spheres of knowledge. And all of that is indeed ground for hope on an otherwise very dark day for the soul.